As of May 2011, 46 million, or 1 in 7 Americans are currently on food stamps. These astounding numbers go to show that food security is a real problem for a growing number of Americans.
Yesterday we took a tour of the Capital Area Food Bank, accompanied by John Turner, Senior Director of Marketing and Branding, Justin Spencer, Food Resource Manager, and Lisa Goddard, Online Marketing Director.
We learned that the food bank warehouse holds 25.3 millions lbs of food at any time, 365 days a year! Their refrigerated trucks can hold up to 40,000 lbs of food at a time. The food bank serves 48,000 people a week, (28,000 of those served are children). The food bank purchases 15 percent of their food stores, while 85 percent is donated.
Turner, Spencer and Goddard stressed that food safety is number one; many members in the community they serve do not have health benefits. Many are children or elderly, and are thus more vulnerable to food-bourne illness.
The organization has donation agreements with HEB, Target and Wal-Mart, as well as local farms (like Vital Farms) and the Sustainable Food Center’s Farmer’s Markets. Turner said organizations like HEB and Wal-Mart were paying to have food nearing its sell-by date shipped to landfills. Last year, the food bank rescued over 4.3 million pounds of food from organizations like these. Turner said there is a big difference between a sell-by date and a use-by date; many foods are often still tasty and edible after the sell-by date.
The food bank also has four nutritionists on staff, who teach workshops to children and adults about how to make healthy food choices (even with limited means) and to modify typical recipes in a healthy way. There is also a small teaching garden to the south of the building.
“Hunger is a symptom of many other things that we cannot control,” Turner said. Unemployment, the economy, poverty and lack of education all play a part in contributing to food insecurity.
When asked about boxes full of sodas and junk food mixed in with potatoes, onions, whole-grain cereal and vegetables, the
staff explained that in order to receive food from some large organizations, like Coca-Cola, who also bottle juice and water, they must also accept some of their sodas. They do understand that, “It’s not just about the volume of food, it’s also about what you put in your body,” Turner said.
Food inventory at the food bank is ranked on a level of 1, 2 or 3, with one being the highest level of nutrition, and donations to pantries or individuals are meant to contain 80% of food ranked at a level 1 and 2 and 20% of level 3 food products are allowed.
The food bank is open 6 days a week. Last year, they welcomed 16,000+ volunteers, which meant they didn’t have to hire the equivalent of 44 full-time staff members. They always welcome new volunteers, corporate groups, families and children as young as eight are welcome to come and help to make a difference.